October 1973, Continued…

As night descended upon Rosh Pina, a tiny town near the Hula Valley of Israel, a town that provided a vast panoramic view of the Golan Heights to the east, it was as if there was no night at all.

I had found all of the members of my platoon, all of us from the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade, all of us arriving from our homes, all of us uncertain of the days that lay ahead.  E., our platoon commander, was busy trying to organize vehicles to bring us up into the Golan Heights so that we could stand with our brothers who were surely facing the most overwhelming Syrian onslaught at this time.

We had seen the Syrian trailers bring hundreds upon hundreds of Soviet made T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks along with hundreds of artillery pieces to the border.  Their canon fire now lit up the night sky and the exploding shells caused the earth beneath our feet to tremble.  None of us slept. We sat in small groups, our ears glued to small transistor radios, listening to one terrible report after another.  We still had no vehicles.

As dawn broke from the east, as explosion after explosion rocked the Golan Heights above, the Israeli Air Force unleashed Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and McDonnell F-4E Phantoms against the hundreds of Syrian tanks.  My hearts sank and I had a terrible feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach, as I saw one of our aircraft after another fall victim to the  surface-to-air missiles unleashed by the Syrian army.  I would later learn that these SAM’s were the latest in Soviet anti-aircraft technology.

Sunday October 7th 1973 brought nothing but anxiety and a pervasive feeling of defeat.  Our pilots who had devastated both the Egyptian and the Syrian armies in 1967 were now falling from the skies, hit by Soviet SAM’s.

Rumors began to spread that the Syrian forces were nearing the Daughters of Jacob Bridge, a bridge near Tiberias, a bridge that separated the Golan Heights from the rest of Israel.  The Syrian artillery and tank barrages were unrelenting and the skies were blackened with the smoke of exploding shells.

Someone said that all around our fortress 104 and all along the border line that separated Israel from Syria, tank battles had raged, battles that would later become legendary in the annals of military history.

Sunday, October 7th, 1973 was drawing to a close, and we were still in Rosh Pina, still unable to make the climb back to fortress 104.  Suddenly several halftracks appeared with our Lieutenant E. guiding their drivers toward us.  He told us to start outfitting them with our equipment, weapons, ammunition and anything else we could lay our hands on.

I opened the rear door of the halftrack that would carry me and my brothers towards the Syrians.  Seeing the interior of the vehicle spattered with blood, I realized that those of our fighters who had been in this vehicle were either dead or wounded.  This is why we had these vehicles.  I found a flight jacket, one of those with the faux-fur collar, and the zippered pockets.  It was stained with dried blood.  There and then I decided that I would wear it in honor of that unknown Israeli who had worn it before me.  There and then I decided that this would be my talisman, that this jacket would keep me safe throughout whatever might come.  A jacket like this had seen enough bloodshed, and as long as I wore it, no harm would come to me.

Just after 4 a.m. October 8th 1973 we began our ascent towards fortress 104.  We wound our way upward and into the downpour of the relentless Syrian bombardment, with shells exploding all around us.   And, with Lieutenant E. leading our small convoy of halftracks, we reached our destination just before 11 in the morning.

We were overjoyed to see that all of our brothers were alive.  They were exhausted, but they were alive.  We took up positions along the various machine gun posts, and someone started a huge cauldron of coffee.   Now that the reinforcements had arrived, there was time to make coffee. No one was allowed to sleep, and everyone was busy carrying ammunition, repairing damaged sand bags, and bringing 52 mm mortars and 52 mm mortar rounds from the bowels of the fortress.  Others opened the boxes of emergency rations and the biscuit tins, and shifts were organized so that finally those who had not been able to eat for the past two days could do so.

It was a joy to behold that our aircraft had learned to avoid the deadly SAM’s by dropping intensely hot flares behind themselves, and as we watched the missiles zero in on these flares, we knew that our pilots were on their way to wreak havoc on the Syrian enemy lines.

Click to read the next installment in Yuval Krausz’s serialized memoir.

About the Author
Born in Israel, Yuval emigrated as a baby to Austria and then Canada. He returned to live in Israel in '71 until '91. His military service was in Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion (including Yom Kippur War) with reserve duty as a tank commander and later a liaison officer in the IDF Liaison Unit. He now resides in Pennsylvania, USA.
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